Friday, December 23, 2011

a Christmas Spanxing

I have crossed a threshold. Today, on 30% discount, I bought some power panties. (Men, just give us this moment, okay?) I managed to get them on and pulled up to my chin :( but only with quite a bit of fighting. I looked like I was trying to capture an angry bear in a brown elastic bag. No matter. The thing is in place and I am now adorning myself to attend a very elegant Christmas party. The question is - will I survive the night without a) pain b) collapse c) gas or d) explosion. The last two may be the same thing.

I have decided that I may need an emergency procedure half way through this festive night. I have been assured that Steve is carrying his trusty pocket knife.

I will report on the evening in a few hours. Felice Navidad (probably spelled wrong)

OKAY. THE VERDICT IS IN. First, the item in question did not make me hot - it is not of the rubber variety of years gone by. And it did help me eat responsibly... since there was no letting out the belt, if you know what I mean. I don't really think it made me more attractive, although I did sit up straighter. In fact, that might be the high point of the thing. My back felt much better than it usually does when I stand around talking. I think I might wear it when I sit and type... as back support.

I must say that on the way home I wanted to rip the thing off. And it was easier to get off than on.

On the whole, wearing a Spanx did not change my life, or my figure, as much as I can tell. There was no extra flirting coming my way, or jealous looks from women.

Right now I am considering sewing the top shut and using it as an onion bag, or maybe a replacement fabric for my slingshot used to fend off hoards of grackles that rob my songbirds of food. There is always a bright side.

I have to add that my grandmother on my father's side ALWAYS wore a corset. When she was in her 70's she had a corset that wore out and she pulled a 43 year old life-time guarantee out of her drawer and asked my mom to return it to Sears. Trouble was, they didn't have a replacement. So we all have our supports. :)

ps... You know, of course, I am doing this as an experiment. I do not need a corset. SIGH

Monday, December 19, 2011

a Christmas story

In 1981 we had arrived at our first assignment as a pastoral couple. The town was Stony Plain, tucked between the rockies and the city of Edmonton, Alberta. I arrived massively pregnant, carrying Jordan and waiting to be delivered. (It is the mother who is delivered, I like to remind everyone. The baby is born, the mother is delivered. Any mother knows this is true.) Anyway, Jordan who we now call JV was born at the beginning of November, a sturdy lad with few complaints.

A few weeks into winter we were invited to go Christmas tree hunting. Christmas trees in northern Alberta are chosen from forests of lodge-pole pines, not soft bristly evergreens. A lodge-pole pine, as the name suggests, is a very tall tree with a straight almost naked trunk that was used by First Nations people as center poles in their lodges/homes. A lodge-pole pine is a tall stick poking the sky, on the top of which is a triangle of green.

To choose a Christmas tree one has to bend their head far backward into the scruff of a stuffed winter coat and eyeball the various tops of trees. In any case, the top will not be as lovely close up as it is high above your head, but one makes due. :)

This winter we agreed to do the Christmas trudge and I bundled newborn JV like a sausage in blankets, his face barely showing, and propped him on a child's sleigh. Ben and Rachel (4 and 6) skipped ahead and with the other family we began our search. A lot of laughter, arguing, snowball throwing and decision making later, I turned and looked back at JV only to find the sled empty!

Somewhere far behind he had been bumped out of the sled and we had not noticed.

With alarm we retraced our steps through the forest and soon found him face down in the snow. He was quite fine, asleep still, as I remember it, warm as a snow cave can make a person. His little face was rosy but not frost bitten, and he was none the worse for wear.

I think back over all I have lost and found over the years. I lost Mark, and I found him. I lost JV on another occasion and found him. But some things are more amorphous. I've lost hope and found it. I've lost courage and found it. I guess if Christmas is anything it is supposed to remind us that what we see as a dead end or a complete loss can always be given back to us, maybe in a completely different form. We cannot hold onto everything that is. But something new is always being born.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas embodied

If there is a shape that speaks of Christmas in the fullest sense it is not a pine tree or a snow man or even a star. Christmas is most perfectly pictured by the contours of a belly full of baby, stretching the skin to its limits and supporting heavy breasts laden with milk.

The image is decidedly feminine - raw and graceful. A swollen womb invites so many questions: is this baby planned? is this baby wanted? did the woman invite the invasion of her womb or was she a victim? will the baby survive? will the mother survive?

"Women continue to be associated with their bodies in ways that men are not. And, as a result of this unique association, women’s identities are also uniquely tied to their bodies in a manner that men’s identities are not" (quote from Sharon Hodde Miller - see my facebook for her full article.) When Mary said yes to the angel, yes to a will other than her own, she took on the burden familiar to women in every age. Yes, Mary was unique, but she was also woman.

As Mary's waist began to expand did her sense of self begin to change? What did she know about life? How did she understand her role, now as mother and not just woman.

At lunch today I talked with a woman who helps serve in the cafeteria. She was telling me more of her story, and her mother's story. She said she didn't know what a 'boy' was until she was married. She was horrified at what happened to her. When she found out she was pregnant - she had gone to the doctor for the 'flu' - she was confused and asked the doctor how it had happened. He scoffed at her, but she truly didn't know.

Woman's sexuality is a vulnerable thing. In a world where rape is a weapon of war, where little girls are married off before they know who they are, let alone what the act of sex is about, but where even old ladies still want to be 'sexy,' we have Mary. A girl becoming a woman through hope and pain. A baby stretching her womb. Confusion. Wondering. Pondering. What does this mean? What will happen to my baby? What will happen to me?

So this is Christmas. Uncomfortable when it is truest. Dangerous, even. And always open to something new.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

candle candle burning bright

Around the seminary in various prayer chapels we have placed artificially glowing candles with LED lights in them. A little switch on the bottom starts the fake light and it shines steadily with dim glow and somewhat gentles the space. Even our advent candle wreath has the appropriate light switched on.

This is not altogether bad. A few Christmases ago an advent wreath caught on fire during the Christmas eve program. The platform was loaded with straw around a somewhat disheveled manger scene. Our daughter, Rachel, singing on the worship team saw the flame start and calmly picked up the whole stand by the pole and walked off stage toward the door. Her dad, Steve, jumped up and took it from her and carried it outside, now blazing afire. As the wreath burned it disintegrated into dropping fireballs, plopping onto his hand - but he didn't let go until he could throw it on the pavement. What is a good story could have been a disaster.

Potential tragedy not withstanding, the LED lights leave something to be desired. If you place them alongside a real candle you will immediately see the difference. The candle's light glows in a large halo, lighting the room more brightly than you would expect. The electronic light is just a glow, like a fading flashlight.

The reason we use the electronic candles, of course, is safety. I was thinking that some of us live a lot of our life with an electronic light glowing. We are still alive, and it is good enough, and above all - SAFE. In fact, this way is the easy way to live - disconnected from any real flame. But kind of sad, don't you think?

In talking with a young man who is graduating this week from the seminary and choosing his placement in a church, I urged him not to take the safest placement. Try yourself out - try God out. In fact, I told him (obviously still reflecting on our new safer candles), be sure, always that you have something in your life that could burn the house down.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

the speed of Christmas

I pulled into the turning lane and he roared past, blatting his horn with his white cuffed arm out the window and the third finger extended. "I am so glad I am not his wife," my first immediate thought.

Christmas is the season for rushing around. I had impeded some one's progress on the road. Not much. Not for long. But none the less, it was an offense.

But I didn't get pepper sprayed like the woman in WalMart who impeded a shopper. And no one hit me with a baseball bat. So I came out of it all pretty unscathed.

There was a time when someone else's anger made a deep indent into my soul. But no more. The anger a person flings against the world says much more about who they are than who I am.

Formation is a movement toward gentleness. I once shouted at a spiritual friend that if I travelled the way of gentleness I would accomplishing NOTHING! in my life. I have found this to be untrue.

Gentleness makes life so much better on every front.

What is the speed of Christmas I wonder? Anybody know the speed at which a donkey walks? Or the rate of camel clumping? I am guessing Santa's sleigh goes pretty fast to reach the whole world in one night. But the things I like about Christmas can be pretty slow. Making cookies with kids. Watching a Christmas special - live or on TV. Decorating a tree. Yup. I am going to go slow. And if anyone impedes my progress I am going to give them my middle candy-cane, not my middle finger.

Friday, December 2, 2011

meaning making

We humans are meaning makers. When things happen to us we create meaning around the event or experience. Even when we don't know we are doing it, the whole process is happening. And what we make of our lives, what the events and experiences mean to us, largely determines how we see the world and our experience in it.

Christmas means different things to each of us. We can say the trite thing, "Jesus is the reason for the season" but our real meaning goes much deeper than our words. Meaning is what we live, what we experience in our inner selves.

Some people around me are talking about the nostalgia of Christmases past. These memories are full of innocence, richness, usually lots of gifts or great family gatherings with people now gone. Christmas meant feeling secure and included, safe and celebrated. The usual comment is that current Christmases are not as wonderful.

When new experiences come into our life we have to revisit old meanings and see if the new ones fit. Sometimes we adjust what we have thought life means. In this way our meaning framework is always being tested and revised. We can't always choose what happens to us but we can always always choose how we will understand what we experienced.

My Christmas meaning development goes something like this. Childhood had moments that were dear, my grandfather making pancakes on Christmas morning and the year I helped my siblings finish their paper routes in the snow so we could open presents. But Christmas was also a time of high anxiety as money was scarce. I remember my dad waiting til Christmas eve hoping to get a free tree from the lot, and coming home empty handed. I hear my mother's voice in my head from that moment, "Oh NO!" That was an anxious Christmas for me, picking up the stress in my parents. Over years Christmas became a fearful time, a time when I was unsafe and worried about what our family would do.

The first Christmas we were married Steve and I overdid Christmas. Wildly. It was like getting to eat all the cookies you wanted without having a mother to dole them out two by two. Then came years of ministry where I tried to make a 'Dicken's Christmas' out of our home and lives. I worked Christmas: baking, decorating, shopping for sales, wrapping beautiful gifts, inviting guests.

But slowly I came to hate all of it. I hated all the stress and work and worry and the way Christmas unfolded. I would try to make Christmas morning glorious for the kids, and then while they snoozed or played I would clean clean clean, cook and fuss over the table and at 3 pm guests would arrive and I would put on the big dinner... complete with little gifts for everyone - and I was exhausted by the end. One year I loathed the guests (my friends!!) as they came in for dinner. I had spent myself trying to make the world different than I had known, and I was empty. I thought if I made it perfect I'd feel that safe, secure, loved feeling. I did not. The old meaning still stayed. I could not do enough to be safe.

Of course the pendulum swings widely. I went through a time hating the season. I would say to Steve, "If I had a Christmas when it was the 26th and I said, 'OH! Was Christmas yesterday? I didn't notice' - that would be a good year for me."

I have had to revisit my meaning platform for Christmas. What does it mean to me? Deep down. Deep in my soul where truth resides. I've come to realize my disposition to try to create safety for myself because I don't have confidence anyone else can or will make life safe for me. Hm. I know now that no one can create a safe world for me, but I can live well and gladly without magical safety. Christmas means to me that God is involved with my life. It means my world has shifted from being only cold and only alone to be cold and alone (sometimes) and also tender and rich with life. Life that will sometimes be difficult, and life that will end.

I might not put up a tree this year, because the year doesn't seem to be beckoning me to do that. But I have put out a poinsettia, and candles. I am going to seek moments of gentleness and joy. But if the joy comes with the usual headaches I will be okay. Because Christmas means a promise. Christmas means I am part of something big. Big and sparkly. We have no idea how big, or how sparkly.

Friday, November 25, 2011

the PERFECT Thanksgiving dinner

I put the turkey in the over 10:30 in the morning, just like I had planned. The schedule of cooking various dishes was all timed out on a sheet stuck to the fridge. Corn casserole: 2:50. Green bean casserole: 3:00. Buns: 3:00.

The turkey had been soaking in a lovely brine all night. I stuffed the cavity with apples and onions for flavor, covered the breast with a piece of tin foil to slow down the cooking since brown meat cooks faster.

At 1:10 my oven made a bad noise and all the numbers and symbols on the control panel went blank. I knew what had happened. It has happened once before. The oven was finished. Kaput. Dead as a doorknob.

Steve went across the street to ask Cindy, my neighbor if she had a free oven. On Thanksgiving day. I was too dismal to go myself. She later told me how strangely he approached the problem and we both laughed.

Steve: Cindy, I have a cooking question.
Cindy: Sure?
Steve: Are you cooking today?
Cindy, puzzled: Nope, we are having Thanksgiving tomorrow.
Steve: Well, could we put our turkey in your oven? That is my cooking question.

Steve carefully carried our large turkey, complete with scrumptious smell, across the street. I downgraded the corn casserole to creamed corn, and worked through each additional item to adjust the plan.
AHA! I thought - our gas BBQ!
We got it going and I put the sweet potato casserole and green bean casserole onto the BBQ. Later I put the buns (frozen) onto the top of the green bean casserole. They seemed to all be cooking okay.

I walked across and checked on the turkey and it looked done. Steve hauled it home and I set it to rest on the counter. Meanwhile I took the casseroles off the BBQ and their containers were a mess. The bottoms were all black (even with tin foil protection) and the insides were well cooked but burned on the bottom.

I started to carve the turkey and it didn't seem quite usual so I rechecked the temp in the breasts and it was only l40. Sheesh. Fire up the BBQ again. I put the turkey, tin foil covered, into the BBQ with the unfinished bread on top of it. I was losing my victory now, having burned my hands twice, and would just as soon have tossed the turkey into the stream beside the house and all gone to McDonald's.

Rachel cut the turkey when it finally was finished. I could hardly eat it. But everything made it onto the table and the dinner was actually quite delish. The lingering problem was that every cooking pot was black with sooty rub on the outside and burned on the inside.

When we went around the table to share what we were thankful for, I was not lacking in thankfulness, I was just flatlined in my emotions. I had worked so hard for this crazy meal, and been frustrated so many times I just didn't want to give anything more. But my turn came around, and I looked around the table at my beloved people who were all cheering me on, and I simply said, "I am thankful for life. LIFE!"

Sometimes life happens just as we hoped it would. And sometimes it is a big fat mess and we have to work hard just to break even, if that. But this is LIFE. And life is a miracle.

Tomorrow we will see how a lasagna bakes on the BBQ.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

let it snow let it snow let it snow

Weather seems to be part of Christmas. Well, truthfully, weather is part of all of life. In the south here, the word 'weather' is used to mean WEATHER. A tornado is weather. A sunny day is not. So, I wonder if we are going to have 'weather' this Christmas.

I am well known as a snow hater. I routinely tell my husband that all the snow I need I can get on a calendar. But there is still something about snow at Christmas. I would actually, secretly, selfishly love a heavy snowfall on Christmas eve and Christmas day ... and then have it melt on the 2nd of January. Weather to order, at my whim.

Snow was part of my Christmas experience as a kid. One particular Christmas memory is going out to help my brother and sister deliver the newspapers before we could open gifts. I remember the scrunch scrunch of walking through fresh snow in my boots, my nose cold and my heart excited.

Recently I have learned that Christmas can happen in the rain, in the sunshine, in the warmth, and even in heat. But for me it is not quite the same. Not quite festive.

This confirms what I know about life - that it is the repeated small things that make us feel secure, warm our hearts and help us belong to our own life. I remember a lot about weather. Gifts? I hardly remember a one... except for a round cardboard Barbie doll case with a silver clasp and a plastic handle. That was something.

Friday, November 18, 2011

on Charlie Brown's Christmas

Sometime around l981 I started getting in touch with Christmas specials. Not the elegant specials, with classical music and oboe solos, but cartoon specials. The Edmonton newspaper (Canada) posted the times and dates of all upcoming specials and I marked my calendar with 14 or 15 events to watch with the kids. Even Big Steve joins us when Claymation Christmas starts. Here is a wee taste: (I don't know how to make this a link...sorry)

We sit snuggled on the chesterfield (for you Americans, that is a couch) and watch little kid Christmas bliss every time we can. We chortle through the Grinch, snort at Garfield, watch Santa's reindeer conquer the abominable snowman. It is magic.

A favorite is A Charlie Brown Christmas. Midway through the program Linus stands up and tells Charlie what Christmas really means.

"There were shepherds in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. The angel came and said, 'Fear not. For behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which will be to all people. For unto you is born this day a Savior, Christ the Lord.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.' THAT's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

This week while in a large unnamed store, (rhymes with Ball Cart) I spotted a beautifully colored book of the Charlie Brown Christmas. I pick it up, feeling nostalgic, and flip through the pages. I flip through the pages again, and finally go page by page. The story is exact. The words in order and the pictures large and beautiful - the same child-minded images of years ago.

But one page is missing. The page where Linus steps up and tells Charlie what the meaning of Christmas is. I feel great indignation over this clear bastardization of the 'precious text'. Whether you like it or not, Linus speaks the meaning of the Christ mass. Charles M. Schultz would be appalled since the whole point of the story is discovery of meaning. It is like having a book about Hanuka that only talks about pretty candles and interesting food. Where there is meaning, let it be.

The truth is that the world has been and is been stunned by the idea that God came to us as a baby. The incarnation is the seedbed of some of the greatest music, art and literature of the human race. Even those who don't grasp the story know that Christmas is big...something happened. Something happens in our hearts around Christmas, even the Scrooges know this. This Christmas thing is bigger than us, bigger than presents, bigger than decorations and food. It has ended wars, revolutionized lives, reestablished hope and put sparkle in the darkest winter days.

So I for one will be sure that my Christmas includes the page torn out by deconstructionists who fear the story of God. I have my reindeer out on the window ledge and there will be other signs of festivity in my home, but in my heart I know that these tinselly trinkets are only my small way of reflecting back to God the twinkle in His eye.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

on Christmas

I am going to do a series of blogs on Christmas. I have been a notable Christmas hater for over a decade, maybe two decades. But I am quite healed, I think. I am talking about cutting down a tree and writing emails to my effervescent granddaughter using the colors green and red on ever other word. My package to Indonesia to gift my son's darling little family is already somewhere in the postal chaos between continents.

I have already been noting the ways Christmas is going to be celebrated here in Lexington. I will comment on these things. For today I am taking my bright red metal reindeer out of the closet and putting it on my desk to inspire me.

(walk walk walk, creeeeek, clunk, rustle rustle rustle, creeeeek, thud, walk walk walk, plunk.) There.

hmmm. ahhh. ehhhh.

Nope. Not inspiring me. Oh well. I will see what I can do these next few weeks to inspire both you and me. Meanwhile, have some hot chocolate and put on the carols.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

'we don't stop dancin' - we just change partners!'

Sisters Keeping the Covenant Conference was held this weekend and I had the complete joy of being present for much of it. You may be able to intuit that it was planned and designed for my African American sisters, and I felt a distinct honor to be accepted among them. These are strong women, every one, and all of them are survivors - overcomers! A 24 hour immersion into the minds of these sisters has given me pause all day today. Let me share a few of my observations.

First, these women live in a different reality than I do. The levels of abuse, marginalization, humiliation and faithlessness they each have endured and expect to yet endure is shocking. What I understand to be the exception is the rule for them at different periods of their lives. They are fighting to stand strong. They are encouraging each other with exhortations of courage. Their music is about what God has done to rescue them, and give them the victory. They sing and they dance - oh yah - from the bottom of their hearts.

I heard some great lines. Evangelist Dottie Stewart, a beautiful, elegant woman of about 60 began her sermon with a song,
Satan we gonna tear your kingdom down
You been buildin your kingdom all over this land
Satan, we gonna tear your kingdom down.

The fabulous jazz organist filled in the spaces and soon the whole room was alive with the music.

With a white lace wrapped hanky in one hand and the mic in the other Sister Dottie brought the word. "I was just about to get my praise on!" she said. "I know what God has done for me. I am a 2 year, 1 month survivor of breast cancer. Everybody here's got something to thank God for. Let's get our DANCE on!" And we did. These woman can move. I moved along with them.... sortof.

Some of Sister Dottie's best lines:
"Tell somebody - I'm saved but I'm not stupid!"
"I have been called to be me! I walk in MY shoes! I have my testimony. I have my giants! MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS!"

You would have loved it - the whole sermon was a conversation. Dottie talked but she listened as much as she talked. We talked back. We changed the direction of the sermon. She responded. We responded.

She challenged the women to stand up for themselves but to be godly. "We can't cuss people out! We can't go get our homey! We don't carry switchblades! But we are going to stand up for what is right. We are going to take our giants down!" She stomped her size 5, 3 inch high heels.

The topics of the sermon were real - AIDS, confronting abuse, not competing with other woman leaders. Not letting people silence you.

Dottie addressed the issue of unfaithful male pastors who are predators. "Sisters," she said, "Do not touch the Lord's annointed. If he is annointed, do not touch him! But sisters, some of them are annointed - and others are simply APPOINTED~!" Ouch. Wow. "You tell your pastor, 'I don't play where I pray!'" Oh yah. "When you say NO they gonna call you that L word. We've got to kill the things that are trying to kill us!" She went on and women were calling out their own stories, "Pastor's are taking people OUT. This isn't news," she said. " This is my own testimony. We are going to take this giant down."

When she made a tough statement a sister called out, "It's tight but it's right!"

Dottie walked up to a beautiful 30-something woman with style and sass. "You're a beautiful woman," she said, putting her finger in the young woman's face. "But don't let any man tell you you can't survive without him!" The young woman broke into tears. "The enemy wants to tear down your confidence and your connection with God and he is going to do it by the lies of a man. Don't believe the lie!" The women all stand up and start talking.

It wasn't about man hating, it was about truth and reality. One exhorter talked about her wonderful relationship with a supportive husband who is constantly pushing her to growth. Later, making the point about the things that keep women living in shame she said, "I have been married four times. I have carried shame about that!" She went on to tell her story. Her first husband was murdered. (Can't be held responsible for that.) Her second husband was an abuser. She listed a painful litany of experiences from being kicked in the head and tossed out of her house to having a gun pointed at her head. Her third husband she met at Seminary. They had a beautiful wedding. She was so sure this was going to be a divinely graced marriage. Seven weeks after her wedding she was at work and the Holy Spirit made her feel very uncomfortable about what was happening at home. She drove home and found her husband there with a prostitute. She said, "I always felt I had to be married to be something. I had to be married to be a minister, but it is a lie!" Her current husband is her soul friend, she said. They have been married eleven years. She is a survivor. She is a witness to grace. She said, "I've got a good man now, but he can't take care of me the way God can take care of me. I am not waiting for him to take care of me. My life is between me and God."

I heard other stories. A woman who didn't finish middle school, never passed one test in her public school life, found Jesus when she was 19. She felt there was nothing for her because she was stupid. But she decided to get her GED and started a degree. She had to learn everything, how to study, how to write. But she did it. She is in a Masters of Nursing now. She has a 4.0 grade. She also has four kids she is raising and works two jobs. She is a survivor. She is a witness to grace.

Another woman told how she came to her car after work and a man attacked her with a knife. He fought with her in the car for 45 minutes while she screamed, honked the horn and fought like a demon. She thought she would never see her children again. She knew she would die. Finally the man ran away. She fell out of the car door and two white women came up to her. "You okay?" they asked. "We were inside the building and saw what was happening but we didn't want to get involved." Oh my. Sisters. We need to help each other.

For 24 hours I was a sister among sisters. I told them that when I came home on Friday night I told my husband, "Those women are beautiful, and they have got flare. I felt like a librarian." (No offense to librarians but you know what I mean!) They laughed. I was the pale one in the group. But we found each other. And I understand now why these women preach the way they do. I understand why they sing what they do.

They're getting their praise on, and it moves, it dances. They won't stop dancing. They just changed partners. Life has disappointed them, but God is reliable. Satan, we're gonna tear your kingdom down!

Monday, November 7, 2011

the Cure

by Ginger Andrews

Lying around all day
with some strange new deep blue
weekend funk, I'm not really asleep
when my sister calls
to say she's just hung up
from talking with Aunt Bertha
who is 89 and ill but managing
to care for Uncle Frank
who is completely bed ridden.
Aunt Bert says
it's snowing there in Arkansas,
on Catfish Lane, and she hasn't been
able to walk out to their mailbox.
She's been suffering
from a bad case of the mulleygrubs.
The cure for mulleygrubs,
she tells my sister,
is to get up and bake a cake.
If that doesn't do it, put on a red dress.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

on timeliness

I got to church very early today. I am a fairly relaxed Sunday mover - and I planned to arrive about the time the second service started to get a good seat and enjoy the service. But when I arrived the sermon was going and that confused me. I talked to a friend who said, "Oh, didn't you put your clock back?" Sadly, sitting on the couch and very much wanting just a bit more snooze to my morning I had instead, leaped up and made for the road. So today I had the benefit of sitting through a class and a service. It was good for me.

I remember hearing of a woman who was lamenting her age. Her husband asked her, "Well honey, were you born at the right time?" She replied, "I guess so." And he asked again, "Did you live at the right speed?" Her answer was, "Yes."

"Then," he said, "You must be at the right age."

I wonder if I live my life at the right speed. The college class I was in was basically about wasting time that could be spent constructively for the sake of the world. (The world, of course, being interests and conditions outside of my own.) They listed all the obligations they have in a week and came up with 19 hours of unused time.

In the first half of my life I lived those 19 hours up fully. I squished more into an hour than reasonably possible, always multi-tasking and racing past gentleness. I wonder now what in my life is lived at the right pace and what is too fast or too slow. Slowing down is one of the graces of aging. Rather than chafe at it I am relishing the fact that my old 'car' can't go faster than the speed limit. I can spend some time thinking about what has happened instead of just racing to the next thing ahead of me.

The idea of Sabbath has been on my mind of late. Sabbath rest is, at its finest, a cosmic idea. On the 7th day God rested, Genesis says. But there is no 8th day. Did you notice that? Rest for God was not a response to the hard work of creation, but actually his final creation on earth. Not the pinnacle, more like the denouement.

God put his rest over the earth with the intention that we would live in that rest. It was not until the 'Fall" that words like curse, rule over, sweat of brow, pain in childbirth, enmity, etc were introduced into creation. Then it became important for us to take a day regularly to rest, but also to remember the holiness of God's rest and what life was intended to be on earth. Hebrews 4 says that 'There yet remains the rest of God for those who are His." This speaks of a now and yet not now kind of experience. One day humans will again live in the "rest of God."

My goal, now, is not to try to keep the Sabbath perfectly. Nor is my goal simplicity of life, which I adopted a decade ago. My goal now is to discover and preserve the 'rest of God' wherever it covers my life and world. Where I find those places I will protect them, in my life or other's lives. And where there is no rest I will endeavor to put some rest there.

This is no small task but it is part of the restoration of the world, as much as any other. The 'rest of God' is fully creative, engaged, open, communal, gentle, and inclusive. Such a rest is the opposite of laying on the couch with the remote and a bag of chips. (Nothing against bodily rest.)

I just put all my clocks back an hour. It felt like I had been given a gift of life - the last hour I used up was given back to me.Time was made a fool. I think when we enter into the 'rest of God' it will feel like that. Time will be made a fool.

Friday, November 4, 2011

He said - She said

Just for Fun

She says, "You look manly today." She means, "You need a shower."
She says, "I hear a noise." She means, "Will you go down and see?"
She says, "Do you love me?" She means, "I went shopping."
She says, "Do you like this recipe?" She means, "I worked hard and need you to like it."
She says, "You make the decision." She means, "You know what I want."
She says, "You're certainly being attentive." She means, "Is sex all you think about?"

He says, "I'm hungry." He means, "I'm hungry."
He says, "I'm tired." He means, "I'm tired."
He says, "You look nice." He means, "Maybe we can have sex."
He says, "Do you want help putting the kids to bed?" He means, "Let's have sex."
He says, "Would you like a back rub?" He means, "I want to have sex."
He says, "I'm going to put the game on TV." He means, "I guess there's no hope we are going to have sex."

(I am going through old files and found this funny dialogue Steve and I wrote for a retreat opener.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Our talk to seminary couples around a fireside

Ten things we’ve learned in our first ten years of ministry. Actually we ended up with fifteen I think – so you can pick the ten you want to hear. ☺ The fun thing was how easy this was to do. We simply sat down and the ideas were right there. We have learned a lot.

1. Don’t defend yourself. God will be your defense if you don’t defend. (This doesn’t mean don’t answer charges at a board level for instance. But it means don’t fight to prove you are right. Or good.) We learned this in the year just before our first stint of seminary – when a woman in the church we were in (we were very new believers but had experienced something of a ‘call’). The woman had a complaint against us and told everyone. We naively continued to be friends to all (as we thought was the Christian way) and did not defend. Eventually when everyone in the church knew about it but us, people started asking why we were not speaking badly of her. We discovered that God preserved our reputation BECAUSE we did not engage her. The lesson we learned: let God defend us. And this has proved to be one of the most important things we’ve done as a rule… we do not defend ourselves to our critics.

2. When you don’t have enough money, and extra comes in, use it to buy an experience instead of a thing. (And – you can live on less than you think.) Never do our kids – ever! – talk about the houses we lived in or the furniture we had. But they do talk about our experiences. When you get an extra $100 from somewhere, instead of buying that new chair you have been coveting, take the family rafting. You will build a host of memories that will be retold as family lore for decades. (We lived pretty shabbily for most of our family life – the kids had second hand clothes etc. We did help our kids buy one of their name brand products - for instance one fashion jean instead of five WalMart jeans. They had very little clothes but always had some things they liked.)

3. Spend time with your critics. On a Sunday when one of the old German farmers was displeased with the service (we used guitars? Or Steve preached about freedom instead of rules) they would come out of the service and harshly critique Steve to his face. But on Monday morning Steve would phone them up and say, “Uncle Dave, do you want to take the boat out?” Steve would go over and help the old man load the boat on his truck and they would go out on the lake. After a couple hours of listening to the old man complain Steve would quietly say, “Uncle Dave, why don’t we just enjoy our fishing?” And they would have a great afternoon. This happened over and over with a number of critics the first years of our first church. Eventually those old men became Steve’s greatest supporters, men who would defend him and who truly loved him. When you avoid critics you miss a great opportunity to make a friend and supporter out of a person.

4. Your kids will pick up your attitude about the ministry, time, people, their state of security - everything. I have to say this is mainly directed to the woman of the house. The children will feel about the ministry life the way you do. If you talk about how people are miserable and how they misuse you, and how you hate it all the children will grow up to resent the church. I worked hard to make the ministry the greatest privilege a family could have. I often pointed out to our children how many ways their dad was available to them in unique ways, celebrated how blessed we were, etc. Our children grew up thinking they were the luckiest kids in the world. They all still respect their dad and his work with deep feeling.

5. Use Caller ID. Always return your calls.

6. If you plan an event it MUST happen – cancelling events creates distrust. Trust is built by doing what you say, over and over. Even if no one is coming, follow through to your best ability. And learn how to be selective. Every idea is not worth doing.

7. When times are very, very hard, remember that you are NOT your work. Steve and I have a little inside covenant that when things at church are ridiculously difficult we will dress us and go to a great restaurant and talk about our life, our dreams, our kids and all the good things of our life. We cannot let the smallest people define us. We must keep some of our identity private.

8. Have friends within the church. The myth of not being able to have friends is just plain wrong. You do need to wisely choose mature friends who will not put your friendship on display. We have hosts of deep relationships with people who have been in our churches, and several very close friends. We did learn to be wise, but because we do not talk about people in front of others we seldom have an occasion where we ‘reveal too much’ of the church.

9. Sometimes the spouse just needs to stay home from church. Sometimes a kid needs to stay home and just take the morning off. The pastor’s family is not the prisoner of the church. The nicest gift Steve gives me now and then is to say, “Hon, your week has been too much. Sit on the porch this morning and I will take you out for lunch when I get home.” No guilt. One time one of our staff members called to say he was going to be a little late for his responsibilities because his wife was in the bathtub sobbing. Steve WISELY said, “Friend, we will cover all your responsibilities. You take care of your wife. Don’t come this morning.” It took some work to fill in his places in short order but it was necessary. Later that day we arranged child-care for them and sent them away to a local resort for a couple nights. The church footed the bill.

10. Always show up on time. Always be prepared. You have no guarantee that everything you do will always be top notch, but go prepared and if things go wrong, just look at it and say, “Well, that didn’t go too well.” Prepare like it is all up to you but then release it all to God.

11. The best thing to do when something goes wrong in a service is to smile – laugh. When things go wrong everyone looks at the pastor and if he smiles and is relaxed they will all relax too. The way the pastor responds in a moment will begin to set the tone for the church..

12. You cannot pastor people if you don’t love them. To love them you must see their lives as they see them. Go walk through a barn, pluck chickens, sit in court and watch them work.

13. About working on your own sermons vs ‘buying’ sermons. The other guy’s sermon from the net will most likely be better than yours. It will sound better, he will have ideas you haven’t thought of. BUT if you use his sermon a) you impede your own spiritual growth because you don’t have to struggle with the scriptures and b) you rob your people of the word that God gives you for your people. If you love them and do real work with the scriptures you will feed them well and they will grow. We encourage READING – not just church growth books, but real literature, thinking, beautiful ideas. And try to learn to read poetry. Anyone who is going to spend their life communicating better saturate their mind in rich writing.

14. Find someone ahead of you and ask for their advice, often. Steve connected with an older pastor whose name was Johnny Bell. Steve would call Johnny and say, “I am thinking of doing this.” Johnny would say, “DON’T DO IT! They will kill you if you do that!” Johnny was nothing like Steve, but he became a treasure in Steve’s life. I know that Johnny prayed for Steve and cared for him and spoke plainly to him. This saved Steve many immature mistakes.

15. Don’t let people use you as a ministry spouse to become a critic of your husband. People who want to get to the pastor but don’t have the courage or ability often use the pastor’s wife … and they dump on her the issues knowing she will take them to the pastor. This makes the wife an unsuspecting critic of her husband, and we all know how healthy that is. This is how I learned to deal with this. When someone would come to me with a long criticism about how things needed to change, I gave them the very best ear I could. I listened, responded, even prayed with them. Then I would say approximately this, “Thank you so much for sharing. I know you will be so relieved to know that I won’t share one word of this with the pastor. I know you would not want me meddling. So if you want him to know this I know you will let him know but BE SURE that I won’t tell him.” Then I smile real big and hug her / him and move on. They stop giving me criticism and I never did take them to my husband. This process created an environment where I was no longer the recipient of criticism and my life in the church became much more peaceful.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What does a fabulous woman look like?

We are part of a church 'family' and if you don't know a church family you don't understand that it really IS a family. Although, like a family we bicker sometimes or get grouchy with each other, we also love. And if someone has a loss we all rally round. Kind of like kids who can't stand each other until their sibling is being attacked from the outside, and then the loyalty rises.

We had a loss this week of a family boy. He is chronologically a man, really, but still a boy. A boy who grew up in the church family, a boy who lives in the memories of everyone as a whole person - full of life and mischief and love. Now a young father, this boy's life ended a week ago much to the deep sorrow of his mom. (Not just his mom, but I am writing about her.) I can't even imagine that I could go on if I lost one of my kids. It is something I haven't yet faced in my long life. I am blessed.

But... I digress.

This woman, faced with the loss of her boy, deeply and openly grieved. She did not hide her pain or try to spiritualize it or pretend she was not crushed. She was surrounded by those who love her as completely as possible in this world, and yet her pain was particularly personal. Who can love like the one who has carried life in her very own body, sharing her energy and DNA and blood. Who can love like the woman who watches a child every moment of his life for YEARS. Think about that. Many mothers do this. They literally have their eyes on the child every waking moment, guarding the fledgling life.

I watched this woman grieve, and then watched her quiet dignity during the funeral. She was very much the mother of the family, responding to the grandchildren, standing in peaceful sorrow at the graveside by her sons, receiving condolences and consoling others.

Today, two days later, she came into church carrying a Kroger bag with baggies in it. In each baggie were seeds she had plucked from a particularly fabulous plant in her garden. She found her gardening friends - including me - and offered us some seeds to sprinkle over a bed for blooms in the spring. She gently told me how to plant them and what to expect in return for growth.

I watched her and loved her immensely. This is strong and compassionate womanhood. She is not through her grief, not at all. She will not know what she has lost until the years pass on and she has discovered holes in her life, over and over. But she is still planting for the future. She is passing out her little seed bags to her friends who stood with her while her son was planted in the earth to wait for the resurrection.

A woman's heart - who on earth can fathom the beauty and depths of it.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

thoughts from a friend

We had a man speak about having a 'parenting strategy' in church on Sunday. This was my friend's reflection.

It started with listening to the guy in church talking about parenting strategies, and ended with my son quoting Hebrews 13:5-6* from this month's quizzing material.

I don't know what category our parenting strategy would be put into, but I'm sure I cannot take credit for it.

I remember as a young adult with a 2-year-old, in a life group with 3 other couples doing the Crown Ministries study. We learned that if we make the right choices and handle our money well, that God would bless us financially.

I greatly struggled with that philosophy, because I was quite sure we were making the right choices, but still God was not choosing to bless us in that way. He comforted me then in showing clearly that blessings come in different ways, as in that particular life group, all the other couples had plenty of money but struggled with infertility. Opposite of us. So I was content, but still puzzled.

I cannot say that we have completed the task of raising our kids, as we haven't graduated the first yet, but I can say with certainty that I am proud of the way our kids have turned out so far, and am constantly shocked at the things other parents are dealing with their same-aged kids that aren't even on our radar screen.

What did we do "right" in parenting? Why did we raise our kids differently? Because we didn't have the money. We would have raised our kids the same as all the others - giving them the stuff they wanted, putting them in all the classes and stuff they wanted, teaching them that their desires are a most important factor in family choices.

Now I know. When I was a young mother, asking God why He wasn't blessing us financially, God was saying, "Because I want you to raise your children differently. There are some lessons that they will never learn if you have money."

And He was right. And I am so happy that God chose our parenting strategy.

*Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?"

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

on healing

A couple weeks ago I wrote on my facebook status, "Cried all day. Working to figure it out." I know that when we have a rupture in our emotions or find ourselves reactive to ordinary events (reactive - strong response, triggered emotions etc.) then we must pay attention. Inside that reaction or rupture is our truth forcing its way to the surface.

My erupting emotions are tied to deep family of origin experiences, family dissonance and trauma, and my estrangement with my father. But what can one do? I simply tried to stay awake to the emotions. And I have to admit, I felt embarrassed that my close colleagues had to see some of my less mature edges. It feels very childlike to be honest about these deep places - maybe because it is the child in us that is hurting.

Anyway, already I sense I am healing, and healing in my core self. Healing happens level by level, ever deeper. It is a lifelong process, this healing business. I came across this quote from Anthony de Mello who was always calling people to wake up and become aware of their lives.

If you would only switch on the light of awareness and observe yourself and everything around you throughout the day, if you would see yourself reflected in the mirror of awareness the way you see your face reflected in a looking glass, that is, accurately, clearly, exactly as it is without the slightest distortion or addition, and if you observed this reflection without any judgment or condemnation, you would experience all sorts of marvelous changes coming about in you. Only you will not be in control of those changes, or be able to plan them in advance, or decide how and when they are to take place. It is this nonjudgmental awareness alone that heals and changes and makes one grow. But in its own way and at its own time.

My evangelical background was not fully comfortable with this quote, and so I chose not to use it in my mentoring class. But I couldn't just dismiss it either. I had to think it through. Am I uncomfortable with looking at myself 'without judgment or condemnation' because, well, aren't we sinners? And don't I co-create my brokenness and need to own it instead of just being aware of it? Is it true that awareness brings growth? Doesn't God bring growth? And so, my niggling thoughts pushing this quote around and around like a cat pawing the dirt.

I put the quote on my desk and kept reading it. This morning I came to work with a deep sense of peace and a shift in my feelings and understanding of this eruption. I reread the quote and it rang fully true! My own judgment of myself resists change - it holds me in a place that says I deserve not to be well. And this, frankly, is NOT Christian thinking, although many Christians think this way. And if I don't simply stay present to my pain I will finally need to create my own false blessing to survive, crafting yet another layer of 'cope and cover' that only serves to distance myself further from the place of truth within me.

Over and over I learn that when I take my hands off my own formation and allow God's hands to move into places that are open and vulnerable I am transformed, gently, noticeably and without striving.

I am quite sure this is my experience this past few weeks. I know a fuller health as I enter this day. The change is deeply internal and my joy now is to live into it and discover new freedoms.

Can I recommend if you are troubled that you stay in the trouble as peaceably as you can: look at it, become alive to it, and let the healing light of God's love warm that place. Who knows what you might have happen?

But in its own way and at its own time.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

for Stephanie

I was driving to work this morning thinking about my blog and how random and unfocused it is. I write when I have a minute, not when I am feeling brilliant, and I write about whatever is in my life and view just then. My thought was that I might shut it down.

But then Stephanie talked to me this morning and told me how much she enjoys reading my blog and that it does mean something to her. So you can thank Stephanie for this blog posting.

This little moment makes me ponder the flimsy-ness of all our lives. We are, generally, unaware of our own power, our own beauty. Over and over we offer our gifts, and these gifts feel so small we wonder if they are worth much at all. Or at worst, that we are a walking offense.

On Saturday a friend came for soup and conversation and brought her little girl. Sarah, aged five, didn't want to come empty handed so she quickly drew me a picture of herself and me, with a heart on each side of the page. She folded it up and gave it to me quite bravely.

It occurs to me that as we get older and 'wiser' we forget to give our gifts with the same sort of unselfconscious daring.

A while back I started giving gifts that came from my hoard of possessions. (And it is a hoard.) I sent my friend with cancer a modest diamond bracelet Steve had given me. I told her to consider it a gift from God. Her daughter was wearing it at her funeral, I think. I gave someone else a book I loved that had my notes all through it. Another time I gave a small statue I had enjoyed on my desk. These gifts seemed more meaningful to me than a bought thing. Of course, maybe the receiver didn't think so! :)

I am going to keep this up. Giving away a sweater to a person who would look great in it. Giving away boots because I just don't need three pair. Giving away scarves and books and jewelry.

But will I also be brave enough to keep giving my own self and then not critiquing my gift to death? I had an insight once that to go over and over my actions and what people must think of me was the sin of self consideration. Simply put - it is the SIN of seeing everything through the lens of me. What do you think of me? How did I come across? Who do you think I am?

I have grown in this but I want to grow more and more bold. I want to believe that my true gifts of self - whether they are a small part in a larger drama or a moment of conversation - are really a dazzling burst of spirit that imperfectly brings LIFE.

What is true, what is given with love, what is full of humor - these things are beyond critique. So draw your little picture and fold it up carefully and give it with spirit!

And thanks Stephanie for giving me your gift this morning.

Friday, September 30, 2011

What I learned...

from the one day Get Motivated Conference in Lexington.

- Everything is changing - fast. (Actually I already knew that.) But here is the second thing - WE can be part of that change if we stay awake and don't fear. (Actually I knew that too.)

- Never allow ourselves to 'be a victim' of life, circumstance, culture or whatever. We have the power to act and God has given us the ability to live our own lives beautifully. (That last bit I added, not from the conference.)

- Disruption - ANY disruption - is a disaster or an opportunity, depending on YOU and your outlook. Those who are victims of it will be paralyzed, those who keep living and listening to God (not from the conference) will be invited to be a leader.

- Every successful person experiences set backs, routinely. Everyone.

- Of course, non successful people also experience setbacks, they just think no one else does. One speaker said, 'every difficulty you are experiencing is being experienced by a million or more people.' Kind of moves us away from self pity, huh?

- In everything you put your hand to do, aim to make a difference, an impact. Never squander an opportunity to act in the cause of LIFE! (That last bit is mine.)

- Be self aware and open to feedback. Very hard to do. "Be easy to manage." I liked this quote - if we would not put up our security walls and say, "Yes, I can grow in this" we would be bigger people. (Also, eating Cinnabons will make us bigger people.)

- Sometimes take on the tough assignment just to stretch. Volunteer. Don't be afraid that you will fail in some way. Accept failing as part of life. Especially when things are changing so fast. We all have to keep trying things out. And that means failure. Regularly.

- Stay humble. (A very proud man said that. I was amused.)

- If you believe in something be willing to take several tries at it to get it right. It might take several attempts to achieve your ends. Don't give up one try too soon.

- It matters HOW you win and lose. Remember when you fail that EVERYONE loves a comeback story.

- Keep perspective. Things are never as bad as they seem. Things are also never as good as they seem.

- Dream individually - but work for each other. Share success and celebrate the people around you.

- Undersell yourself and over deliver.

- Be a magnet to people because you are full of life, even when you are struggling. Successful people love to help other people. One man climbs a ladder and then reaches back and pulls the ladder up. Another man climbs a ladder and then reaches back and helps other people up. This is the basic fundamental difference between people.

- Every team is tired. Every team has problems.

- Learn to protect yourself from the flood of information. (I heard this morning on NPR from a woman who is making a film about connectedness and the web and all... and this woman whose WHOLE LIFE is about social media and connectedness online said .... listen up - that she and her family unplug one day a week as a shabbat sp?. She said it was absolutely essential to their wellness. Imagine that.)

- Evil makes what is important seem unimportant, and what is unimportant seem important.

- Never stop having fun. Life is too too wonderful to get grim. Be happy for no apparent reason.(This one is just a bonus from me.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

music to live by

I spent some time last night downloading new tunes from iTunes onto my iPod. A few years ago I didn't even have a conception of these kinds of things, but it is pretty cool.

Most of the new music I listen to is indie, acoustic, and bluesy. I have no idea of new groups so when I am listening to NPR and they introduce a new band or album I pay attention and then if I like it I grab my pen (usually in the car) and scrawl the names on my arm, my pants, or if I can find it, the little tiny diary I keep for just such a purpose in my glove box. Where, incidentally, I never put gloves.

Anyway, I was listening to new music last night and I heard a song whose two first lines were,
"I am too sad to cry
I am too tired to die..."

I laughed right out loud. Anyone who can write that is going to be on my listen list.

Just in case you need some new music... I am sitting here enjoying Imelda May, her new album - Mayhem. Kind of bluesy, kind of jazzy, and smart. I like it. Never heard of her before this week. The world is full of so many beautiful things.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Cna yuo raed tihs? Olny 55 plepoe out of 100 can.

i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg.
The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at
Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a
wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be
in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed
it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed
ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and
I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

I have also learned that we read the tops of words, not the bottom. Cover the top of a line of words and try to read it. You can't. But cover the bottom and read the top ... it works.

All this to say that I am way too busy to write anything profound, but these things make me smile - I love thinking about our brains and the capacity God has given us to be alive, well, human and relating to others.

Use your words carefully today. Someone is reading them.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Leviticus 18:19

A modest woman friend on mine at the Seminary had this experience... these are the two emails she sent to her friends (and me).

First email to my friends:

I decided you might need a good laugh, so here it is (at my expense, no less). So, I get a phone call this morning, asking if I will read the Scripture reading in chapel today (300 people in attendance) at 11:00 a.m. I readily agree, eager to take part in the service! THEN, I learn that I have to read Leviticus 18:1-19 in front of this large group. And NO, I'm not allowed to leave out verse 19 (YES, I asked!) I haven't even done it, and I'm already turning red. Yes, I'm a big girl, but give me a break...I know that all Scripture is God-breathed, but did He really intend for this to be read out loud, in mixed company, by a woman? I don't think so! can stop laughing now! :) God has a sense of humor, but I'm not laughing with Him right this second!

Second email to my friends:

Okay, I hope that you are sitting down and that you have recovered from your previous laugh, because it gets better! After enduring that entire reading, the speaker stands up and publicly apologizes to me guessed it! was the WRONG scripture!!! It was supposed to be 19:1-18, NOT 18:1-19. Can you believe it!? The president of the seminary and all the vice presidents came up to me afterward and commended me for having read a scripture that has never before been read out loud at Asbury Seminary! One even said he loved the way I said "nakedness"--I do not think I will ever live this down for the remainder of my time here. Wonder if I should just quit while I'm ahead?
Note to self: never agree to read Scripture in chapel again. Poor Lauren--everyone knows I'm her mother, and she has to attend here...that poor, poor child..

God definitely has a sense of humor, that is for sure! I have been officially "hazed" into the community; glad to have that behind me!


Personally I love that we (read: Karen) said menstruation in chapel on a Tuesday morning. It is the experience of at least half the audience and well, some things just need to be brought out of the closet. It was a funny funny morning!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

37 years

Thirty seven years ago tonight I had a headache. We had been celebrating all day, taking one bottle of wine after another out of the case of 24 and opening it with friends. I was quite inebriated by one or two in the afternoon and completely down with a hangover by supper. I do not recall that there was a church practice or anything like that.

Thirty seven years ago tonight the large washing sink in my mother's unfinished basement had armloads of daisies in it. I still had a bouquet or two to arrange before I turned in. Oh, and I had never arranged flowers before. But what can be hard about daisies? They kind of fall into a beautiful armful. I hated them before the night was over.

Thirty seven years ago tonight I weighed 121 pounds. My wedding dress was in my room, 100% polyester, size 7, bought with my own funds off the rack for $100. It was simple with no lace but with lovely polyester ruffles around the wrist and down the back. I also had a veil which wasn't very exciting to me. I would rather have left it off. It would be the perfect 70's flower child dress when the daisies were done. Damn the daisies, anyway.

Thirty seven years ago tonight I went to bed in my mother's home for the last time. Steve kissed me at the screen door three steps down from the kitchen beside a built-in boot box. We laughed. We were in love. It was going to be legal - finally.

And I did have quite a headache.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

I have nothing to add

Mother Theresa once said, "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other."

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

on being 60, or 24

Steve turned 60 on Monday. The day was cool and blustery, appropriate for September... in Canada. I paid attention to the day and tried to notice and capture moments with potential joy or depth. I think 60 is a bit of a bridge to cross for Steve. One of those markers in your life that you don't expect to get to. Like being under a tombstone. I always look across graveyards I pass and think to myself, "None of these people actually thought they would be there." And I don't either.

A family I am close to moved back to Lagos last spring. I miss the family and their five beautiful children. We stay in touch. The 13 year old daughter sent me an invitation to connect with her on a social networking site.I clicked the link and there was her profile. Like a flashing yellow light I saw a number under her name. Age: 24.

The internet is a dangerous place and our children are so perpetually naive. The ones who think themselves worldly and risk the most are really the most naive. I watched this dear girl chaff at restrictions and family identity the last year they were here. I knew she didn't want to leave America. To take a teen who has lived 6 formative years in America back to Africa is no small thing.

I read her profile and wanted to grab her shoulders and shake her. Gives all new meaning to the 'shaken babe' problem. There is nothing good that can come into her life from this. Not only that, she is completely missing the point of being 13. Her only chance to be 13 is now. She is part girl, part woman, and everything is stirred up. Life has 13 year old work and play and innocence that is hanging by a thread. God knows 24 will come and with it the burden of life.

So, like Steve at 60 and my friend at 13 we all struggle to discover and be what we are. The struggle can rob us of life - stealing the beauty of today and pitting us against our own biology and biography. We end up fighting ourselves all our days, instead of sinking into the beauty of our unique essence.

I felt like writing my little friend's mom and warning her. Instead, I wrote directly to the girl and told her I had seen what she did and asked her to change her profile. If she doesn't I will write her mom. The world is a dangerous place and evil is waiting to pounce. As an older woman I must stand in defense of the little ones. My effort won't be enough to change her life, I know. There is a whole hurricane of life happening inside this girl, and she will write her own story. But I will own the little piece I have access to.

Steve, though, is on his own figuring out 60. GRIN

Monday, August 22, 2011

fierce with reality

In order to make our life fully real and truly ours we need only to embrace its truths. When we truly accept all that we are, all that we have done, and all that has been our history and experience, then and only then can we be - to adopt the phrase of Florida Scott Maxwell - "fierce with reality." There is no substitute for this fierce engagement with reality when one seeks to live life fully. (quote from David Benner's book, Soulful Spirituality.)

For 35 years after I gave birth and released a baby to adoption I thought I could put it behind me and move on. In fact, much of the Christian talk I heard (and gave :0) was about God washing away our sins and hurts and moving us forward, clean and new. The old behind us is dead, we are new.

What is wrong with this is it takes the metaphor of soul cleansing too far, into an unhealthy realm, really. Because as we lop off the 'bad' or sad bits of our story, we lop of parts of ourselves. And in the end, we need those parts.

Rarely, a person would engage me in spiritual conversation that created space for my story of a lost child to bubble up, and a comment would be made: 'you need to find that person!' I would think, Why? What difference will it make? Just curiosity? I do not allow myself curiosity. It is not my right." I did not wonder, except rarely, usually on birthdays, and I did not see much benefit to a reunion. It would not change anything.

But a longing I didn't even recognize grew. We are hungry people, all of us - hungry for many things and rarely mindful enough to actually identify them. These hungers of mind and soul haunt us, until we find ourselves standing with the fridge door open, cold air sinking to our feet, saying, "Hmmm. What do I need?" And we pick out a piece of lemon meringue pie, or a beer. But the hunger remains. Unnamed. Wanting.

The experience of meeting Mark has been and is fierce with reality on so many levels. The spiritual healing is simply this - that I am brought back into wholeness. Not wholeness like no limping or wounds. Wholeness like all my parts together in one place. I discovered the experience of my unplanned pregnancy is not any more a 'sin' experience than any other experience of human life. It is marked by greatness and ordinariness, brokenness and blessing. And I came to find that God was with me, deeply accepting and loving me through it all, working to redeem and remove roadblocks for me and Mark. And that I NEED that time of lost-ness to be located consciously and vibrantly in my soul, to be well and whole. Wellness is not perfection. It is a fierce reality.

What has happened to, in, and by us is ours to transcend and integrate. The deep work of spirituality is to discard the many selves we are trying to re-invent, and become the self we are. Our true self is unique, but not a uniqueness we choose. (More on this later.)It is a uniqueness deep within that we disclose, with greater courage and love, as we grow in openness. And this is the easy load Jesus talks about. Being your own true self is the elegant art of simple, integrated living.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Just had a call from my son in Indonesia. He was telling me about a new game Blaise, the grandson, learned in school. The game is called, loosely translated, "Big Healthy Eels."

There are three buckets with a bunch of eels in each one. The goal of the game is to get as many eels in your team's bucket as you can. (Not sure the actual procedure of the game but it is, apparently, raucous, physical and tons of fun.) At the end of the game they count how many healthy eels are in each bucket, since, apparently, some die or are mortally wounded. The goal is to move the eels without killing them. I wonder if they then cook the eels for cafeteria lunch. Hmmmmm

Just so the kids aren't mortally wounded.

Once again I realize how different various cultures are. And I have to say, I am delighted my grand-kids are having these experiences. In Calgary all we can offer is Snakes and Ladders. Just imagine - "Big Healthy Bears." Or "Big Healthy Mountain Lions." Nope. We will stick with Snakes and Ladders.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

tale of two lives

A world traveler friend met a woman in a nun's habit, in Egypt. Her name is Mother Magda, and she was surrounded by children who call her Mammie Maggie. To his great surprise he encountered her again last week in Calgary, Alberta, and heard her speak. This is from his notes which he just sent me:

Marilyn..her address was riveting , suffused with strength and humility…she spoke of her privileged, well heeled, family upbringing in which she was exposed to and experienced the best of everything including the best education in the country…she loved the ‘elegant life’ (food and music etc.) but has since come to see that the ‘true elegance’ is an ‘inner elegance’. She was told by the Lord to leave the best and brightest students and go to the poorest of the poor and then told to sell all she had and give it to the poor. She confessed how hard it was to endure the smells of the poor given her former genteel life. She was being breathed upon by the Holy Spirit to do this and began to immerse herself in scripture…she made the commitment to read the entire Bible every year which she has done for 25 years. She spoke of the true love which doesn’t give out of one’s extras but gives until there is pain..this kind of love washes the life, turns sinners into saints, heals the unwell, strengthens the weak and effects true forgiveness. I described her in my notes as a person filled with ‘affective Christocentricity’.(I found this picture of her.)She concluded by saying that whenever she goes to another country she bows down, kisses the earth and blesses the country. She asked to bless the church in a similar fashion she bowed down and kissed the floor and blessed the church..her lithely done prostrations were the same as those used by the Muslims in their prayers. Her organization is named after the martyr Stephen and is the largest ministry in Africa serving 27,000 families a day. She is surely living a ‘white martyrdom’.

Isn't the phrase, 'inner elegance' compelling?

And then I drove to work listening to a sermon aired on a local radio station. The pastor is the leader of a large church in Lexington. He spoke from the passage which tells the story of Peter walking on water in response to Jesus invitation, when Jesus came walking toward the disciple's boat in the middle of the night. He makes the point that we need to step out of the boat, using his own life as the example. His story, which is the story of being invited by God to take risks that inevitably led to establishing this church, has put him into the place of leading a large non-traditional church.

It may be that you or I feel drawn to one or the other of these stories. We might make judgments.

I ponder this as I walk into my office this morning, realizing again that each of us must listen to our own life, our own heart, and the whispers of divine calling within our own spirit, and neither envy another person nor demand that anyone else live as we have felt led to. The example may be inspiring but the details are unique. Each of us must own and love our own life.

Monday, August 15, 2011

hump day

So tomorrow is day 9 of the 17 day diet. No cheating. Just doing the thing.

I should not be surprised, but I am experiencing this to be much like a fast. If you have ever fasted you know the progression - you feel starving and miserable and ravenous and desperate. You get restless and even mad. You obsess about it. But after a while you grow calmer, gentler. And then you start to realize things. You realize the place food has in your life. You become aware of why you eat - usually not because you are hungry, and you learn that you can self-sooth even without your precious food.

Some people are great 'fasters'.They seem to love to take a severe tone with themselves and even thrive on denial. I am clearly not one of those people. I am closer to the epicurean. I love indulging myself in exquisite tastes and experiences. I can be full and still find myself enchanted by a glass display of tasty bits. Yes, I have made a few fasts, and value fasting, but I don't do it often.

Now, eight days into this crazy plan I find myself entering into some wisdom moments. I see how completely disordered my eating had become. I rarely tasted anything fully, was never satisfied, always on the hunt for more. Food had again crept up to be too important to me.

Yesterday I walked through the Fresh Market and sniffed and watched all the food and food preparation. The place is magnificent. Fresh, delectable, savory, wildly opulent - who gets to be in places like this? I have forgotten to be amazed. I was amazed yesterday. I bought a melon for $2.50. Someone worked hard to get that melon to me. Tonight's dinner will be mostly melon.

I have to tell you that I have been such a whiner about this. I have felt childishly deprived, cheated, aggravated, annoyed and just plain pouty. But my hope is that I am being reoriented. I don't want to be my own greedy pig about life.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

in love with the sky

The sky and I have had a long relationship. I am a gazer, and when I gaze, I love. I love this earth. I love being alive. I love getting lost in the vastness of mystery above me, and I love being a worshipper of a Creator God who seems to join me with delight while I gaze.

To be a human tied to this earth and yet able to look to the sky anytime I want is like a cosmic life direction. I am heavy on the earth but there is always the upward look calling me. Every day of my life. Doesn't that seem to be guidance, when you think of it? We are bound and yet unbound. We are limited and yet long for transcendence.

And with all that before us every day, calling us to more, we forget to look, to be amazed. We drive past a sunset with our visors down so we aren't bothered with glare. Amazing things happen every day and night in the sky and we mostly don't notice. Someone said, if there was only one sunset in a lifetime we would all stop our lives to look and be astounded. But this sign is so daily that it is ignored. (Maybe that is why a depressed person looks down.)

So yesterday when Steve told me we were in a place in the earth's orbit where a meteor shower will happen, best seen just before dawn, I set my alarm for 4:30. Steve said he would get up with me but that was not possible for him. He does not "do" 4:30 am. But I got up, surprisingly awake, dragged a large quilt and pillow out the middle of my backyard and gazed skyward.

Sirus clouds blocked the view at times but they were moving quickly. As I lay there I became aware of all that I miss. The dew was pushing glorious thick smells of pollen down to the earth and fragrance like gardenias and orchids and lilies pressed into me. One cricket chirped, but within an hour the whole garden was clicking and popping with sound. At about 5:30 I heard the first birdsong, as if the early bird had indeed gotten the worm. Beneath me the ground felt rock hard ... like cement. I felt wonder rise in me that this hard ground could produce everything we need to be alive and sustained. A vibrancy shivered down my spine and embraced all that is me. Morning had broken again, like it had every day for eons, and I was there, aware, in a corner of it, as much a part of life as everything else. My body was simply in life, not older, not with good hair or sore feet. Just alive.

My mind began to travel back to other nights like this. When my kids were small we lived in the far north - FAR north - and I would sometimes get them up from bed to lay on the picnic table in our backyard (the ground was too frozen and cold) in sleeping bags to watch the northern lights make love to the vast blackness of the cosmos. I thought back on the night after Rachel's wedding when, with another family, we laid on a back deck of a prairie farmhouse and watched a meteor shower that could only be rivaled by special effects. For two hours we had non stop fiery coals criss crossing from horizon to horizon, many with long tails and some seeming to fall into the next field. And yes, I once saw a meteor descend like a rocket into a field beside us. I was so sure of what I saw that I went out the next day to try and find it. Likely it was just dust by the time it hit, but the blaze didn't go out until the trees hid it from view.

Part of me is a little sad that science is discovering what everything is about, out there. But what does wisdom literature say? Something like, It is the glory of God to hide and the glory of man to uncover. Even where science triumphs, mystery remains.

When I have a raw experience of nature something happens in me. I lose the time bound limits of my little striving world and become a barefoot soul, part of everything that has been and will be - a living being in a time bound moment. All the deformities of my nature and character and life shrink before the vastness of the all that is. That was last night, outside, with the dew falling on me and all of nature on the move.

Oh yes. I also saw 7 meteors.

Friday, August 12, 2011

new seasons of life

Every time I think to write on this blog I run it past my internal editor. My internal editor is a very thin pastor's wife with a slightly burnt perm, glasses on the end of her nose, two dark thick hairs growing out of a mole on her chin and a ruler in her hand that smacks me on the head when I propose a provocative idea. She wafts by, leaving an odor a bit like over sweet fake perfume and is worried about what everyone thinks of her (us). I don't like her but she is useful, so I keep her around. She's a real prude around me but I have the sneaking feeling that when I am not looking she has a secret life.

So... there are lots of things I don't write, and topics I decide against. This is one of them, really. I want to talk about a new time in my life, but I don't want my kids to read it and feel any sense of needing to change or alter what they are doing. You see, my new season of being involves their new seasons of being.

So here I go.

My kids don't need me. STOP. NO. I know they 'need me' emotionally, and they love me and all that. But it is right and good that they are all owning their lives, making decisions without me, planning for a future that will not include me. Because I will be dead. That is the raw truth. In every arena of life this is enacted. Nothing grows on forever. Life is renewed by fresh life, new life - in short, the young. Old die and young are born.

I have finished doing my essential work to secure the continuation of the species. I have had young and raised them. Now they have young and are raising them. (Except in a dream last night - very vivid - I was pregnant at 55. A vivid and disturbing experience~!)

One of my friends told me that at our age we need to sit on the front porch of our kid's lives and yell at them through the screen door. I think it is more like this: we need to sit on the porch of our kid's lives and wait gently, until they yell out the screen door at us. And sometimes they will invite us in and have tea and tell us things but we shouldn't stay too long. A parent can overstay a welcome.

Every time I am with my kids I feel this. I know it is right and good. There are simply times and decisions in which we (Big Steve and I) are only adding bulk. And there are times we are plainly uninvited, not because we are a problem but because we are, well, the previous generation.

I am not hurt about this. I recognize this to be right and good. I know that as I let go of control everyone is happier. Really, what is happening is that I must take care of my own emotional needs and not put them on my kids. My daughter's friend group cannot be my friend group. My kids have to put their main focus on their budding families and the work of daily life they are embroiled in. The main work is not about me. Maybe the day will come when I will be so needy they will be in a place of paying attention to my needs. But not this season.

So... here is what I am feeling lately. And Rachel, do NOT feel guilty or call me or let this add to your life load. I miss my daughter. I miss that we are not calling and chatting or sharing life or laughing and telling stories. But I know that she is in the middle of a very intense time of spiritual struggle, negotiating life with her husband, managing and loving her emerging teen girls, holding down a job, trying to keep her body healthy, hosting her in-laws for a couple weeks at her home, keeping up with friends and participating in a budding church. I know that she loves me but we are not communicating and I miss that.

Now - if you are not my daughter but this is triggering all kinds of reactions in you - pay attention to your responses before you post a comment. I am truthful when I say that this is a good and growing place for me - quieting my heart down from my longings and simply being on the front porch of her life until she can find the time to invite me in, or come out and sit for a minute with me.

The last thing I want is for my kids to be burdened by my satisfaction. I want them to grin when they think of me. I can wait. And I am growing into a new season that is pretty cool when you think of it. I have more space, more quiet, more time to read and garden, and develop a few meaningful friendships. I can afford all the shoes I want.

When she has passed this whirlwind and steps out onto her porch, I will be sitting there. Not with a sarcastic comment about missing her. But with a calm heart and a cup of tea and a maybe a funny line. I want to do this season well. I am going to do it well. I will demonstrate love by being at peace with myself and not grasping at her life. This is love. This is good. Very very good. And I am still figuring it out.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

13 days to go

I am reading this book on the 17 Day Diet - and I have to say, I am starting to like this guy. He has all the usual stuff and good health information, but he also has some reality.

For instance - a whole chapter on the PMS diet in which you just darn well eat what you need to eat.

And the drink restrictions - particularly green tea. The advice is that green tea is best for you but if you hate it, have your cuppa coffee when you want.

And my favorite, and I quote, "6 Reasons Not to Freak Out about Being Fat."

1. Stronger Bones - a little meat on your frame can ward off osteoporosis. Weight bearing bones stay stronger. Those of us who are bigged bones are counting on this.

2. Healthier Hearts and Lower Risk of Diabetes - Women with larger thighs have a lower risk of heart disease and early death, says a study in the British Medical Journal. Love the Brits. I am going to live to be 110~!

3. Glowing Skin - recent twin studies have found that the sister with more weight was judged to have a more youthful look. A gaunt look can add years. I am personally aiming away from gauntness, although it is a challenge.

4. My personal favorite - Bigger Boobs. The more you weigh, the bigger they get. This is patently untrue. The only correlation is that when you lose weight you LOSE what precious boob cells you have. Gaining only gives you bigger thighs. See #2.

5. Increased Fertility - Underweight women were 72% more likely to miscarry, reports a London study. (Clearly the English have thought this all through.) A few extra pounds on overweight women had the effect of lowering miscarriage rates.

6. Faster Metabolism - More energy to operate bigger things. Which is great because the diet goal is to exercise 17 minutes per day. You get that big machine going and then it is time to stop. Works for me.

You gotta give this guy credit. He can encourage you whether you are big or small. I like that, frankly, because to a large extent we are what we are. I am now on day four of the 17 day diet. Big Steve is doing it with me, and that is funny to watch. I plop a plate in front of him - fish, a roasted tomato and half a zucchini, grilled. And he eats it. Must be a Christmas Miracle.